Employee Wellbeing
26 April, 2024
Creating Offices for Employee Wellbeing
Designing offices that promote employee health

Wellness is a phrase that’s used so often in modern vernacular that it can sometimes be difficult to really dissect what it means. Part of the reason for that is wellness covers a lot of different aspect of our individual state of health as well as the environment around us its influence.

What is wellness?

In an article discussing the dimensions of wellness, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says: 

“People often think about wellness in terms of physical health — nutrition, exercise, weight management, etc., but it is so much more. Wellness is a holistic integration of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, fuelling the body, engaging the mind, and nurturing the spirit. Although it always includes striving for health, it’s more about living life fully, and is ‘a lifestyle and a personalized approach to living life in a way that… allows you to become the best kind of person that your potentials, circumstances, and fate will allow'”.

As such, they go on to say that wellness encompasses eight mutually interdependent dimensions. These are:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Vocational
  • Financial
  • Environmental 

They continue: “Attention must be given to all the dimensions, as neglect of any one over time will adversely affect the others, and ultimately one’s health, well-being, and quality of life.”

As far back as 1948, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  

Meanwhile, Don Ardell, PhD from the Living Well Center at the University of Buffalo is quoted: “Wellness is first and foremost a choice to assume responsibility for the quality of your life. It begins with a conscious decision to shape a healthy lifestyle. Wellness is a mindset, a predisposition to adopt a series of key principles in varied life areas that lead to high levels of well-being and life satisfaction.”

This holistic view of wellness is important to consider when it comes to the success of our businesses. By understanding the drivers to optimum wellbeing, we can seek to support the different areas that ultimately help teams to be happier, healthier, more productive and more committed in the workplace.

Employee Wellbeing

Why is employee wellbeing important?

The emphasis on choice is an interesting factor in the discussion on wellness and wellbeing, and this is perhaps being evidenced as millennial and Gen Z employees place work-life balance and wellbeing on all levels at the forefront of their career choices. It has been frequently reported that these younger generations have been pushing companies to evolve as they seek out employers who proactively contribute to wellbeing in the workplace.

Deloitte reported: “While nearly half of Gen Zs and majority of millennials say their job is still central to their identity, they’re not willing to sacrifice their well-being and are seeking new ways to maintain work/life balance.”

Crucially, these value-driven generations don’t consider wellness purely in relation to their own immediate health and experiences, but in connection with the environment as well. Deloitte writes: “They are looking for their employers to reinforce and support their priorities around sustainability.”

From a commercial perspective therefore, seeking to create working environments that support employee wellbeing is not only an ethical imperative, but a smart business move as well, helping to attract and retain talent. The benefits don’t stop there, however.

The CIPD writes: “Investing in employee wellbeing can lead to increased resilience, better employee engagement, reduced sickness absence and higher performance and productivity.”

They also say: “Fostering employee wellbeing is good for people and the organisation. Promoting wellbeing can help prevent stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Good health and wellbeing can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance.”

Employee Wellbeing

What impacts employee wellbeing at work?

A broad cross-section of things impact our workplace wellbeing, from our physical environment to our social connections, the hours we work to communication styles, leadership, transparency, financial and non-financial recognition, and so forth. What is clear however, is that the physical environment is a powerful and controllable way for organisations to take great steps towards supporting wellbeing at work.

Mental health charity, MIND, writes: “noise levels, space, temperature and light – can significantly affect staff wellbeing.”

The Financial Services Culture Board echoes that, writing:

“Research into the effects of work settings on employee wellbeing considers the physical environment surrounding employees, e.g. the division of space, the size of the work area, and ambient conditions. This research shows, for example, that:

i. exposure to bright light in winter can improve vitality and mood of employees

working indoors; and

ii. open space and green spaces are positively associated with self-reported wellbeing.

Work settings that are conducive to employee wellbeing adjust to the needs of employees. Research in this field looks at workspaces that can facilitate both interaction and autonomous work, such as a combination of individual workstations for solo working, cellular offices for focused working, meeting spaces for group working and flexible spaces or lounges for knowledge sharing.”

Meanwhile, the NIH takes similar points and refers back to the importance of giving people the ability to make their own choices and have autonomy over their wellbeing. This too gives an indication of how we can design offices to support wellbeing. They note that two particularly important factors in wellness: self-regulation and habits. Creating environments that give people the power to self-regulate (e.g., access to quiet wellness spaces, natural light, the ability to control lighting in their own desk space) and to foster healthy habits at work, are therefore powerful contributors to supporting wellness in the workplace.

Designing an office that promotes employee wellbeing

We have written before about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as a pyramid, which gives an indication of what people need from their environment in order to flourish.

It begins with basic physiological needs (air, food, water, shelter), followed by safety, security and health and then a sense of connection. If these former things are in place there’s space for self-esteem, including a sense of achievement, mutual respect and confidence. At the pinnacle of human need is self-actualisation. When we have all these other things in place, we can be creative, spontaneous, have a sense of purpose, meaning and seek to fully reach our potential. While each organisation and its needs are different, this is a good place to start when thinking about the design of the office and how to create a workplace that promotes employee health.

In the environments we design, how space is used and styled is fundamental to health and wellbeing. Aspects range from air quality to temperature, noise levels, biophilic details, dedicated meditation rooms, coffee bars, outside space and more, all accounting for a wide variety of health and wellbeing needs, from general to specific, all contributing to better productivity, better staff retention and increased brand reputation amongst top talent and clientele.  Here are just a few ways wellbeing been designed into our client offices:

Clean air at Investindustrial

Investindustrial is a technology leading private equity firm in London, and when it came to designing their new HQ, a key part was the installation of a game-changing air filtration system. Ensuring clean air throughout the workplace, we installed a PNAT Air Factory to filter the air using the power of plants and technology. Air returns purified after pollutants have been absorbed by the roots and leaves, converting them to their own nutrients. Bringing tech in harmony with nature’s wonders, there is also a system of sensors, which sends information in real time to a monitor that can verify the quality of incoming and outgoing air and the volume of pollutants removed by the Air Factory.   

A call-centre focused on staff wellbeing 

Mindful of the pressures of working in a call centre specialising in debt management, Lowell UK Shared Services placed employee wellbeing at the forefront of all design considerations at their dedicated purpose-built, 100,000sqft space. Key features include lots of natural light and ergonomic seating, but the pivotal element was the top floor, dedicated entirely to wellness. It has floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise the natural light, a large circular coffee bar with an impressive cherry blossom installation overhead, and a range of seating from hammocks to modular sofas.  This is a space where team members can spend a moment on their own or to come together with colleagues and relax.  

A neurodiverse HQ

Sharkmob has made waves as a leader in gaming since 2017, and when they came to designing their 36,000 sq. ft London office, neurodiversity was a key consideration for supporting their team. Key features included minimising visual and audio noise from individual desks where possible. The overall ambition was to embody a people-centric ethos which enabled team members to create ambitious new IP whilst feeling real ownership over their work and enabling them to enjoy being in the workplace at the same time.

Want to create a working environment that promotes employee health?

Speak to the team at Maris